Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Old Postcard Wednesday--San Francisco's Cable Cars

"The driving force behind the San Francisco cable car system came from a man who witnessed a horrible accident on a typically damp summer day in 1869. Andrew Smith Hallidie saw the toll slippery grades could extract when a horse- drawn streetcar slid backwards under its heavy load. The steep slope with wet cobblestones and a heavily weighted vehicle combined to drag five horses to their deaths. Although such a sight would stun anyone, Hallidie and his partners had the know-how to do something about the problem.

Hallidie had been born in England and moved to the U.S. in 1852. His father filed the first patent in Great Britain for the manufacture of wire- rope..."  - CLICK to read this article about the history of San Francisco's cable cars.

I've seen many cities built above the sea. As different as Marseilles, Algiers, Lisbon, and Naples are, they all have a common feature:  their hills are used as architectural elements. The streets marry their curves; they climb in spirals so artfully that the sea can be glimpsed from almost anyplace. What looks so complicated on a map seems simple and natural in reality. But it's quite the opposite here: San Francisco is a shockingly stubborn abstraction, a geometric delirium. The plan was traced on paper without the architect even glancing at the site. It's a checkerboard pattern of straight lines and right angles, just as in New York or Buffalo. The hills, those very material obstructions, are simply denied; the streets scale up them and hurry down without deviating from their rigid design. As a result, you hardly ever see the ocean. Enclosed between successive barriers that cut off the horizon, the streets have a provincial calm they are paved with red bricks that evoke the fresh tiling of Dutch kitchens and are lined with white houses three or four stories high. San Francisco does not have the warm, cosmopolitan colors of Barcelona or Marseilles. The memory of the gold miners, their camps, and their brawls seems far away. You can walk a long time in its peaceful, bourgeois neighborhoods without suspecting that you're in the heart of a city of eight hundred thousand inhabitants.
-excerpt from America Day by Day by Simone de Beauvoir

(From the book Foreword by Douglas Brinkley, 1996):
Beauvoir journeyed to America in January 1947, armed with an effusive letter of introduction from her soul mate Jean-Paul Sartre and ecstatic about experiencing four whirlwind months. Although she did not intend to write a book, she kept a detailed diary of her observations, which was published in France in 1948 as L'Amerique au jour le jour. At the time of her trip, two years before the publication of The Second Sex, Beauvoir was considered more of a cafe' society curiosity than a feminist trailblazer. Even in 1952, when the book was translated and published in England as America Day by Day, it generated few sales and little notice. But with the passage of time, America Day by Day emerges as a supremely erudite American road book...
...For women, and men, who want to experience vicariously Jack Kerouac's open road with less macho romanticism and more existential savvy, America Day by Day, hidden from us for nearly fifty years, comes to the reader like a dusty bottle of vintage French cognac, asking only to be uncorked.

 Beautiful San Francisco skyline clipart by ABKL Designs



Don't Feed The Pixies said...

San Francisco - why has no one ever based a theme ride on taking a taxi down those streets?

Where a young pixie once stood on the docks and had frozen banana on a stick, covered in chocolate and peanuts from a vendor, and took the ferry underneath the golden bridge.

lovely post xx

Kim said...

Another great postcard! I love the coloring and the view of the sea in the distance.

English Rider said...

San Francisco is best viewed from the water, not the other way around.

Darlene said...

I didn't know the history of the cable cars. I have ridden on them several times and am always a trifle apprehensive. I know those guys are strong, but what if one day ----? The thought always crosses my mind.

Thank you for a great post full of S. F. information. Of course, it's one of everyone's favorite cities.

Mariana Soffer said...

Nice post lydia, thanks, It reminded me of the times I been there, I consider it one of the most beautifull cities of the states, and certainly the cable cars fit great there. I remember the first time I went, I thought I was about to crash all the time, I was really young and had to drive everywhere arround it, I was specially scared of the streets that where to steep and where also filled with cars, they seemed impossible to climb with traffic due to the angle they had. But luckly I never crashed, it was just a sensation I had.
I also find very accurate what Beauvoir said, great comparision among cities she made.

Best whishes for you L

the watercats said...

ahhh.. San Francisco... one day.. Loved the little history lesson, really quite traumatic for a horse lover.. and did you make the little cable car pic?.. lol.. it's kind of cool :-)

Lydia said...

@Pixies- You were there as a kid? That is wonderful! Your folks actually got the family out on the ferry under the Golden Gate; what a great tour. As a kid and then young adult I made numerous trips there, but haven't been there for decades so feel quite out of touch with the beautiful city.

@Kim- Simone would love your comment about seeing the sea in the distance. I never thought of it until I read her book, then I became rather puzzled as to why they plotted the city that way!

@English Rider- Yes, from the water or a bridge. Doing this post really made me want to have a vacation there with my do a real tour.

@Darlene- One of everyone's favorite cities is right! Who doesn't love the place? I would say I was excited by the cable cars and terrified as a passenger first in the family car and later in a former boyfriend's sports car!
Good point you make about the strength/ongoing health of the cable car operators.

@Mariana- You have driven the streets of San Francisco?! I am highly impressed! I've only been a frightened passenger. Wow, you are really amazing. And since you are a world traveler I find your validation of Beauvoir's comments enlightening.

@the watercats- I really hope you get to tour San Francisco some day. You'd be glad that horses are no longer used as transport (it was a sad sad story).
The little car came from a free clip art site, but I chopped off the top wire thingy because the clip art was of a trolley car - and the cable cars aren't attached above so it would have been cute, but very very wrong :)

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Valuable and beautiful old postcard!

Beth Niquette said...

What an interesting blog! It is a small world, isn't it? How funny that you know where Mt. Angel is, and actually live so close to there.

I'm a native-born Oregonian. I grew up in Wilsonville.

Hattie said...

I used to ride the cable car all the time on my way to my violin lesson. That was before women were allowed to stand on the outside !
My office mates used to regularly break their high heels off when going up and down the steep streets!
This post brings up lots of memories. I left SF right after I got married and never came back there to live. That was in 1964, before the proliferation of tall buildings downtown.
You could live there cheaply, once. Imagine that.

Lydia said...

@Phivos- It is one of my favorites saved by my grandmother!

@Beth- Hey, Beth! I must have left a message at your blog from this blog, instead of Clutterquake. Sorry to confuse you. :)
We drove through Mount Angel last weekend on our way to the Portland Opera. Still intend to go there specifically to check out your brother's shop.

@Hattie- You are back! I read snippets of your posts from your trip and will come by to really read them all soon. My apologies for being so disorganized with my blogging time lately!
I loved your memories of SF. So glad this post was fun for you (I imagine some of the comments have been of interest too!)

Hattie said...

I promise to post photos of my trip soon. A little grumpy upon my return, as you will see!

Lydia said...

@Hattie- I'll come see. You are entitled to be grumpy when your regular patterns have been disrupted for as long as yours were!



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